Last Monday, I bounced out of bed despite the fact that I had stayed up until 2 am the night before. Watching a man-made rover land on Mars just isn’t something I get to do every day. And the excitement and joy over such a momentous occasion made me chuck my carefully laid out lesson plans for our first day of school, and instead focus on our closest planetary neighbor.
Science is simply the application of math. It is the FUN side of math. And building robots that land on other planets must be every child’s dream at some point in their young lives. So this event is the perfect opportunity to motivate and encourage your child’s interest in STEM subjects.
If your child is interested in space and our solar system – or even if he isn’t! – here are five ways to help her deepen her knowledge of the universe.
The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California is the lead center for robotic exploration of the solar system here in the U.S. The Mars Mission is just one of the many projects you can find information about on their extensive website. To learn about the major challenges the Curiosity rover faced in landing on Mars, you can watch this video with your kids. My children also loved watching this animation about the landing and surface operations of the Curiosity. And seeing the first images from Mars really got us all excited about the mission. NASA also has some incredible shots of Mars posted on their website.
Read About It
There are several activity-based books for children that have been published to help them explore the universe. Two of our favorites are:
• Leap Into Space by Nancy Castaldo. In addition to experiments and crafts, Castaldo also highlights important figures in the field of astronomy like Sally Ride, Galileo, and many others. Ages 8 and up.
• Out-of-This-World Astronomy: 50 Amazing Activities & Projects by Joe Rhatigan & Rain Newcomb. From making solar ovens and astrolabes to calculating your age on different planets, this book will engage your child and encourage her to experiment on her own. Ages 8 and up.
Make It Hands-On
For budding artists, the study of the stars can provide plenty of inspiration. Provide your child with plenty of art supplies and ask them to create murals, paintings, sculptures and other art projects that reflect the beauty of the cosmos. A true artist has a deep understanding of their subject, so challenge them to research their subject before creating their artistic masterpieces. Great for any age.
“Leap” On It
My family really enjoys the LeapFrog Tag Solar System Adventure Pack. This interactive, two-sided map of the solar system includes more than 40 activities and family-friendly games. For example, children will learn information about the Asteroid Belt between Mars and Jupiter, how many moons Mars has, and all about dwarf planets. Kids can earn online rewards and parents can hook the reader up so that they can monitor what their child is learning. It requires a Tag Reader (sold separately) and is best suited for children ages 4 and up.
If you have a little engineer in your home, challenge her to build her own model rover. My kids spent hours building their own versions out of household items such as empty boxes, paper cups, cardboard tubes, packing tape, etc. Then they took their rovers outside to “test” them. Or if you prefer more modern materials, there are several DIY sets by LEGO® and other companies created specifically for missions to Mars.
Enjoy the cosmos!
Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.